3-month postpartum, new mom me: “I haven’t even gotten her birth certificate yet so her own savings account? College? That’s a hard no.”
Overzealous bank teller: “Okay, well park and come inside so we can set that up right now!”
I had no time and absolutely no desire to do so. The only thing I wanted in that moment was for my baby to stop screaming in the back seat. So I politely declined, making empty promises to return shortly, and went on my way, quickly forgetting it all.
Fast forward three years and I only just remembered this interaction when, on her birthday, her grandparents sent her $5 and a note saying they’ve placed money for her in a special savings account. Oh… yeah… about that! But have I figured it all out and set up an account? Still nope.
I get it. In theory, saving early for her big life achievements is incredibly important. And now I have a second child to do the same for! But seriously—where would that money come from? Like almost half of all Americans, we basically live paycheck to paycheck. Since having our second, our savings have taken a big hit. So where do we find even cents to put into two college funds? I’m trying to figure out what I can sell so I can buy her the glasses she needs today; how can I save for college that’s not for another 14 years?
If you’re like us and feel guilty that you haven’t even tried to save for your children’s futures yet because the demands of today are too heavy, here are 5 tips we can all incorporate so our kids will have something to fall back on:
Start early: Let’s say there’s about a 7% return on investment right now and you start putting $50 a month into your kid’s savings account as soon as she is born. That could be around $20,000 by the time she needs it for college.* I haven’t been doing anything for the first three years of her life and I can’t contribute the whole $50 right now, but I can start something, and I can start it today. The sooner I get my lazy butt off to the bank to open that account, the better.
Start small: Your kids are small, so start small. I’ve heard of parents always putting aside 5-10% of each paycheck to their kid’s savings accounts. It’s not a ton, but it builds. I’ve heard of other parents putting in just a little on each birthday, or putting in how old their kid is turning (i.e. three dollars on my daughter’s third birthday). Yeah, it seems like a teeny amount, but at least it’s better than nothing, right? And it keeps you reminded about this account, so it won’t fall to the back of your priority list.
Prioritize: What’s more important: your child’s college fund, or that hamburger you’re craving? Her wedding budget, or the newest iPhone that you desire? An emergency account to fall back on, or the blinds you want to replace in your home? Prioritize the needs before your wants, and realize your sacrifice now will pay off when you aren’t devastated by an accident or can spare her some debt during college.
Meet with an accountant to discuss options: I feel incredibly dumb when it comes to financial lingo, so I need to turn to the experts to ask what I could do now to maximize benefits later down the road. If you feel lost on where to start, too, an accountant will be able to help you sort through options like Roth IRAs, 529 College Plans, savings account interest, and Fidelity Investments.
Choose the right avenue for saving: Is a savings account really the only/best option for preparing for the kid’s college funds? Maybe…maybe not. I didn’t even realize how many ways you could invest and save until recently. Again, meet with your accountant to learn about all your options and what you’d prefer to do.
It’s hard to save for something that seems so far away. My daughter is only three, hasn’t begun preschool yet, can barely crap in the toilet, and I’m expected to prepare for her college tuition? Even though it’s hard, and it will be many years before I see the fruits of my labors, I’d still rather be frugal now than to be caught with my financial pants down, years later.
So, what college fund, you ask? Oh, just that one I started today with a whopping five buck balance and a dream of compounding interest.
*Example borrowed from The Simple Dollar.